Homeworkers in the least energy efficient homes have faced the biggest increase in heating bills of up to £28 a month, compared to just £1.31 for those which are well insulated, combined with an average £17 a month rise in electricity.
Fuel poor households often live in rural properties located in off the gas-grid areas which typically have lower levels of insulation. This means those in the most financial difficulty are living in the hardest to heat homes so are being disproportionately affected by the energy cost rises associated with remote working.
Even as lockdown restrictions ease over the coming months, thousands are expected to permanently keep their desk at home. In support, OFTEC, a registration body for off-gas grid heating, has shared guidance on how to keep energy costs down. The advice includes:
- Adjust your heating timers. Make sure your heating and hot water only comes on when you need it to. Remember to change your settings as the weather gets warmer.
- Only heat the rooms you use. It's tempting to run the central heating during the day when homeworking, so turn down radiators in unused rooms to minimise cost.
- Don't leave devices on standby. Turn TVs off at the wall when not in use, reduce screen brightness on laptops and switch off lights when you leave the room.
- Use ECO settings. Larger appliances, such as dishwashers and tumble dryers, can use a lot of electricity so check if they have an ECO setting to consume less power.
- Have your heating system serviced. Having your boiler regularly serviced helps improve efficiency and lowers fuel costs. Use a registered GasSafe (for mains gas) or to ensure the work is completed safely.
- Check what support you can receive. You may be able to claim tax relief to cover some of your costs when working at home. Visit the Gov website to check eligibility.
Malcolm Farrow from OFTEC, said: Rising energy bills are a hidden cost of the pandemic and it's concerning that vulnerable, fuel poor households in badly insulated homes are bearing the brunt of the increases. We must not dismiss this as a short-term issue. Many businesses have outlined plans to maintain remote working so this problem is only going to get worse over the coming months and years.
The concerns over energy cost increases come ahead of the government publishing its roadmap for how off-grid homes could be heated in the future to reduce emissions. OFTEC argues tackling fuel poverty must be an important part of the solution.
Malcolm Farrow added: We all agree we need to change how we heat our homes to lower emissions but we must be careful not to solve one problem and create another. Any long-term solutions must reflect the fact that large numbers of households already struggle to pay their bills. The government's current focus on encouraging off-grid homes to move to renewable heating technologies, such as heat pumps, could put more pressure on households budgets due to the much higher purchase cost.
Oil heated households are a particular concern as they tend to have low levels of insulation which needs to be improved for heat pumps to work efficiently, adding more expense. Instead, these homes could soon switch to a renewable, greener liquid fuel with minimal upfront cost or disruption. This would greatly reduce emissions and provide a long term, cost-effective solution for off-gas grid heating.
*Lockdown energy usage, BBC - January 2021